Project Focus : Gadget Sanchez

Josh Singh is a character modeler at Blizzard Entertainment, currently working on the top secret Project Titan. In his eight years in the video game industry he's worked on titles like Titan Quest, the upcoming MMO from 38 Studios codenamed Copernicus and as well as the upcoming MMO from THQ Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online. When not making games, he enjoys collaborating with his colleagues and spending time with his wife and four children.

Babe Lab : Hi Josh!

Josh Singh : Thanks so much for asking me to contribute to your awesome blog!

Babe Lab : It is awesome, isn't it?  Hey. You're the first 3D artist we've had here on Babe Lab. But perhaps that's pigeonholing you a bit. Your blog and CG Hub profile show you're just as capable in the 2D realm. Can you explain the advantages/disadvantages 3D has in the creation of a character like Gadget Sanchez [above]?

Josh Singh : So I concepted Gadget in 2D first. I rarely will just dive right into 3D, especially for something as exacting as a female character. My 2D process is pretty loose, though I just really want to get a general idea and a few visual “hooks” just to give myself a feel of what or who this character is.

BL : You've given Miss. Sanchez lots of nice little touches.

JS : Yes, these are the “hooks” I was talking about!

BL : There's that music player on her collar, a fire extinguisher on her belt, tons of neat little pouches (boot bags, lol!) and a glowing indicator light on that gas-powered weapon. Then there's even more subtle stuff -- the asymmetrical clumps of hair poking through her bandanna, the hex pattern on her knees, the "flammable" decal on the gas tank and the weathering on her shoulder and elbow pads...

JS : I feel there are certain archetypes or tropes that we rely on when making characters. So Gadget is the "cute mechanic" type character. Usually these characters are very tomboy-ish. They wear their hair up or have a bandana, carry a big bag of tools and have some dirt on their face. I wanted to put some cool gear on her. I sometimes approach characters like action figures. Like, if I were to get this particular character as a toy, would I be excited about all the cool accessories and stuff I could put on her? So that’s the starting point for the small details like the mp3 player and all the pouches.

BL : But what's this I see? No goggles? Shame on you.

JS : Hahah, yes you noticed no goggles. She did have goggles at one point, but I thought that was a trope I would omit this time around.

BL : You've got a more rigid version [below] and a posed version [top] with her head cocked, hip thrust and weapon grasped. This, along with an all-crucial facial expression, does wonders for her femininity. Is it difficult having to make something static before you can make it come alive?

JS : Well, the rigid version is what most 3D artists call a “T” pose. We make the model in this pose so that an animator can put bones in the model more efficiently. It is also a good pose for sculpting and making sure the parts of her costume are right. Now on the other hand, there are artists out there that work in a strictly sculptural sense, meaning they start from the beginning with a pose in mind and sculpt all cloth folds and accessory positions in relation to the pose from the start. These guys are usually working in toy design or sculpting maquettes for 3D printing. Think of it as the difference between a sculptor who sculpts in clay, and a puppet maker who is making something that will animate and have the illusion of life. I have been on both sides of that and both have their joys.

BL : Virtual female models are almost as harshly scrutinized than their real life equivalents. Thoughts?

JS: I think that you are spot-on in saying that female models are scrutinized to death. Monsters and males are easy; they both can err on the grotesque and get away with it. I mean look at a boxers.  They have these jacked-up faces that are really fun to look at and draw. An attractive female is another creature entirely. Volumes have been written about what makes a woman beautiful, and the fact is that the standard we have for female beauty is a product of very exacting conditions. What I mean is that lighting, makeup and camera angle as well as focal length all contribute to how a female who is widely considered attractive is perceived. So, when deciding to create a female character and present her in a way that is pleasing , you have to think like a photographer almost. Females have a lot of nuances that are a pain to do in 3d. I think that if you have a solid foundation in anatomy and you know the landmarks you will be pretty successful. I think you hit on a lot of that stuff in this blog.

BL : I'd like to think we're getting there!

JSLets talk about boobs for a sec.  Is that okay? 

BL : That's....great, actually.

JS : Boobs are such an ever-changing aspect of the female character. The costume dictates the boob shape. This is where just straight sculpting in a pose vs. creating a character for animation can differ. When you're sculpting into a pose, the breasts, fat and all the fun little bumps and valleys of the female form can be expressed and exaggerated. It’s a beautiful thing. BUT, when sculpting in that “T” pose, you have to keep everything neutral. Because the animator will add deformers to the jiggly bits to make them react to computed physics during the rigging phase of a character. So this can be problematic when you are making certain types of characters. The first example that comes to mind is "What if you wanted to make a really sexy, but slightly chubby chick?" Well, that “T” pose is going to be very unflattering, but once you get her rigged, you can pose her into a really sexy pose to really show off those nice curves. So you really have to be able to see the end from the beginning sometimes and keep in mind, when working on a female character in 3d, that if she isn’t hot yet, she might just need longer eyelashes and some make up.

BL : Your work has a distinct flavor, which can't be said of every character artist. What do you attribute that to?

JS : You know, I had a buddy of mine ask me this a while back -- to sort of distill my style. So he watched me sketch in Zbrush for a few minutes while I attempted to describe my thought process. As I went on, he got all frustrated and said “Dude, you are just like one of those cooks who doesn't document his recipes!  You just throw a little of this and a little of that in and keep tasting!” I think he sort of hit the nail on the head. I have worked with a lot of artists in my professional career, and I feel I try to take (steal) something from each one of them. I have a certain leaning towards the Disney-esque side of things. I think they have a wonderful way of distilling a character to the bare essentials, making sure it works and then adding on top of that. I really think that Disney ideas are in my sub-conscious.

BL : So no rules, then?

JSI think basically if I had any “rule” it would be that the character just has to be interesting to me. It needs something fun that could possibly hook it into a wider universe. That may sound kind of broad, but it’s the only thing I can think of that would constitute a “rule.”

BL : Did you, at any point, consider streaking her face with grease and calling her "Dirty Sanchez?" Sorry, that was in poor taste.

JS : Yeah, “Dirty Sanchez” did come up during the brainstorming process, hahaha! But really, I have always sort of had a crush on that tomboy mechanic chick archetype. I always thought that girls who could do things and be useful as opposed to just being a pretty face were immensely attractive. In high school I always had crushes on girls who did sports and had that air of confidence. The name Gadget came from a discussion I had with one of my buddies. We were talking about possible names for his baby on the way and he said that he would love to name his daughter Gadget. I thought it was a cute name. Come to think of it, I think there was a cute mechanic chick from "Chip’n Dale’s Rescue Rangers" named Gadget. Wasn’t she a mechanic too?

BL : And a mouse!  Don't Google search her, though.  You get some horrible, erotic fan pieces.

JS : ...

BL : Give the 3D geeks some pipeline specs on this thing, just so we can say we covered that.

JS : Well, for Gadget I modeled everything rough in 3ds Max. Everything that is hard edged and needs a mechanical bevel is done in Max. Cloth, leather and the face is done in Zbrush. So I take my base mesh that I made in Max, bring it to Zbrush, sculpt the crap out of it, then run the plug in for Zbrush called “decimation master.” Then I do a process called “re-topolgy” in which I build polygons over the decimated sculpt in a program like Topo Gun or 3d Coat. You can do it in Zbrush too, but I don’t wanna. This process gives you a model with topology conducive to animation and laying out the U.V.W. Channel. U.V.Ws (or “UVs” as they are affectionately known) are the first step in painting the textures for the model. Once I lay out the UVs I take them to Photoshop and paint all sorts of fun maps to feed into the shader, maps that tell the shader how shiny certain pieces need to be, maps to tell the shader what color things need to be, etc.

BL : Complicated!

JS : As far as polycount, I just wanted her to be under 10,000 triangles. Her textures are at 1024x1024.  Anything larger that that for games is a waste, imo. At least right now.

BL : Thanks for your time, Josh! And thanks for making Gadget Sanchez! She came out awesome!

JS : Anytime! You are a gentleman and a scholar. It was my pleasure.